It’s a sobering thought that my work as a dietitian spans almost half the time the NHS has been in existence. I started working at “Jimmys” in Leeds 32 years ago this week: a week before my registration came through.
I have a great deal to thank the NHS for both personally and professionally and could never have imagined all the opportunities and experiences that my career would offer me when I qualified from RGU in the summer of 1986.
It’s ironic to reflect that when I started work there were no prescribable oral nutritional supplements (in hospital they were all home-made in the diet kitchen, using raw eggs and milk etc). Yet today we are proactively trying to reduce the vast amount of money we are spending on inappropriate use of a huge range of these products, which seems to have gotten so out of control over the two and half decades, since they were introduced.
I have had the opportunity of working with some very inspiring people, in a huge range of care settings. I have also been very fortunate to be in the right place at the right time in new areas of practice for dietetics:
- I worked at all levels of the prison service, including the DH NOMS health team;
- I was the first dietitian to be elected to the position of PEC (professional executive committee) chair back in 2004 – a Board level position- in one of the largest PCTs in England;
- I was appointed as the NPSA’s head of nutrition and cleaning for England and Wales; and
- I now hold a unique role as the only strategic nutrition and dietetics advisor in the UK, working as part of NHS Highland’s senior social work team.
I have also been supported to apply for, and have won many awards over the years; from “excellence in prison healthcare”, presented to me by the Director of Her Majesty’s Prison Service and more recently The BDA’s “Dame Barbara Clayton award”, for an innovative approach to social care placements. These placements are now being widely promoted throughout the profession and the NHS and my work in this area was shortlisted as an e-poster by the ICDA 2016.
I have worked with English professional football players in my role as a sports dietitian but was also part of the of the ITU team, which supported and cared for victims of the terrible disaster at Hillsborough. The true professionalism and compassion shown to so many (staff, relatives and patients) is a great testimony to the ability of the NHS teams in Sheffield who reacted so quickly to a crisis that I would never wish to see again.
Throughout my career the common thread has always been my work as a British Dietetic Association “volunteer”. I started back in 1987, as a trade union representative, rising over the next 7 years to the elected to the Executive Committee role of Trade union general secretary: aged just 30. I was in a position to lead the profession at the time into affiliation with the TUC, following meetings with the then general secretary, John Monks. I subsequently became the first dietitian to ever present a motion (co-incidentally, on the need to manage malnutrition) at the national TUC congress in Brighton, back in 1997: I was actually moved from my original time slot to allow a newly elected Tony Blair to address congress. As a founders member of the BDA burns interest group, I was also invited by the Indian burns association to contribute to an international speaking tour in Delhi and Bombay.
I continue to volunteer and support the work of the BDA, particularly promoting the role of dietetics in social care through articles, blogs and conference presentations. I was very proud to lead the planning and delivery of Scotland’s first ever BDA event, promoting the role of “Dietitians shaping the future of Scotland’s health” in 2016. It was so positive to see so many posters and listening to inspiring presentations. It sold out thanks to the widespread support from so many Boards, NHS and 3rd sector agencies. The strength of the NHS is its staff and coming together to openly share, network and encourage each other, delivering a “once for Scotland approach” whenever we can.
To think, how little access we had to ANY technology until very recently makes me reflect on how we managed back in the day… No smart phones, computers, digital presentations, or the www! Now we have to be careful that they don’t take over our lives. I have embraced digital technology to support CPD, networking and to share the work of others from/across the UK and world-wide. I was fortunate to be able to participate in the NHS Scotland #eNMAHP (now #dNMAHP) programme and it has transformed the way I work over the past 4 years. Setting up a twitter account has been great for my career; having initially caused quite a stir with my twin daughters (“their cries of you’re not following me!” were really funny!). And now I am also a YouTube star:
Which brings me back to the start of my reminiscence of the last 32 years, where the greatest thanks I can give the NHS is the support and care I received when my twin daughters were safely delivered via a caesarean section (5lb 4oz and 5lb 8oz , in case you wonder) in January 1999!
Knowing how much the NHS has done for me and my family only encourages and inspires me even more to continue to give our service users the best that I can give them. It is such a privilege to have the chance to work so closely with so many elderly people, with such fascinating, and often surprising histories and experiences. I am grateful that I work as part of a team, where innovation and person-centred care are actively promoted. I look forward to continuing to working as an NHS dietitian until retirement comes, and will always be grateful for the very varied journey and opportunities along with way.
NHS Highland nutrition and dietetics advisor
Tel 07870 868475